The art of sharing little dishes
Pulling together British colonial style with an all star food and drinks crew featuring Thomas Lim (ex-Tetsuya's), Mitch Orr (2010 Young Chef) on the pots and pans, with Charles Aidnsbury, Andy Penney and Joel Amos taking care of liquid refreshment. Expect seasonal produce, a left-of-centre approach to gastronomy and most of all good times at this late-night dining experience.
As you enter the side door to the Duke Bistro and walk up the dimly lit stairwell you start to realise the decor is a lot more sophisticated than the downstairs eclectic dive bar yet thankfully you still find highlights of the fun and quirky humour. The decor is cosy and I love how the tea lights are held in the tilted teacup — a good way to light up the dishes when photographing them too. The menu looks very tempting but like Berta you're at a loss to know how a dish will be prepared and cooked because the descriptions are kept very minimal and only the main ingredients are identified. To start with a thirst quencher the Duke Cocktail ($15) is a duo of Orange, Maraschino Liqueur and Bubbles, finished with a Lemon twist and the Champagne Cocktail ($14) has Cognac, Angostura Bitters soaked Sugar cube and Bubbles. Both are served in an old fashioned champagne glass. They're noticeably alcoholic which is a good thing but they're also noticeably small as well — quality not quantity applies I guess.
I wanted to try everything on the menu and our table of 4 nearly did although the servings are fairly small so it can start getting a little pricey to start feeling full. The delightful looking School Prawns Spiced Tea Butter, Croutons ($6 for 2 pieces) are bite sized and too quickly eaten to appreciate. The Octopus, Hops, Chilli, Orange ($8) reminds me of a dish you might find at Universal. The octopus is tender and the dish flavoursome and I wished there was more of it to share. Fried Chicken Wings, Coleslaw Milk, Hot Sauce ($10) gets you 4 petit pieces of tasty chicken although they're not like your more filling mamak variety, but still yummy. The Egg, Seasonal Mushrooms, Almonds ($15) looked a little like a science experiment with the beaker of consommé you self pour. The flavours were good with the interesting mushroom textures. I thought the flavours in the Lamb Belly, Cumin, Eggplant, Pearl Onions ($16) went well together as did the pricier Wagyu, Herb Dressing, Roast Gem Lettuce ($24) which was maybe a little over seasoned with salt but I didn't mind it. The smokey scented roast lettuce was something different and I think complimented the dish nicely.
I enjoyed the Tater Tots, Duke Gravy, Edamame ($15) which were cooked to a crunchy shell perfection but being only bite sized morsels they were inhaled in seconds. I first tried burrata cheese at Kingsleys which was more creamier than the Tomato, Strawberry, Burrata, Shiso ($18) but it was interesting having it with strawberry. The Baby and watermelon radish, cooked in dashi stock and beurre monté ($18) was one of the table favourites mainly because it was served with oven warmed buns to fill us up. We received one bun for each person so I'm not sure how it works — if we had eight people at the table would everyone get a bun for the same price of the dish? The Pork Neck, Purple Kale, Bread Sauce ($18) sitting on the side of the plate sort of summed up the share dining experience — smallish yet flavoursome, although the pork was very salty this time around. The 2010 Earth's End Sauvignon Blanc ($35) from Marlborough was nicely quaffable as expected and both the Gin and Fever Tree Tonic Water with Lime ($10) and Lemon Lime & Bitters ($3.50) came with huge single piece ice cubes.
PROS: Quality ingredients, Interesting flavours, Nice decor, Friendly staff, Better suited for dining in couples I think
CONS: Smallish dishes, Can get expensive and might not be filling, Some dishes are harder to share than others making it fiddly, Some dishes were quite salty
MUST TRY: Everything at least once if you have the money
Baby and watermelon radish, cooked in dashi stock and beurre monté. Served with oven warmed buns ($18)
Duke Cocktail: Duo of Orange, Maraschino Liqueur and Bubbles, finished with a Lemon twist ($15)
Gin and Fever Tree Tonic Water with Lime ($10), Lemon Lime & Bitters ($3.50) — check out the size of those single ice cubes
Balcony with a street view — only 2 tables if you're lucky
Table napkin and the best use of a tea cup as candle holder I've ever seen — good for directly light onto your food for photographing I soon learnt.
Private dining room of 10 seats — very nice
Stairwell bottle chandelier — very cool and quirky
Waiting area in the toilets
Aesop hand soap in the toilets — so Darlinghurst/Surry Hills
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